This is mine and my DH's third cruise and our second time on Carnival. We were a group of 12 from Chicago, Las Vegas and Minneapolis, five of whom are past guests and six who had never cruised before. Two of us have sailed on Disney and three have sailed Royal Caribbean. All agree that each line offers something unique to their line and our style of cruising.
Pre-Cruise - Some of us flew to Houston on Friday and stayed at the Super 8 Motel - Intercontinental Airport which is located a few minutes from Bush International Airport. I booked this hotel through Hotels.com and even though it only received 2½ stars (most were the same rating) the hotel was perfect for our group. It was affordable and the rooms and the hotel were very nice and clean. Also, they allowed us to hang out in the lobby and play cards on Saturday as we waited for the rest of our group to arrive.
Jose Reyes of South Houston Limousine picked ten of us up in two large SUV's to take us to Galveston. The last couple came in much later in the afternoon and found a shuttle to take them to Galveston from the airport. I highly recommend Jose if you want a direct transport to Galveston. The party before us was delayed and he contacted me immediately to let me know. Since we were a day early for our cruise, this was not a problem for us and he arrived approximately a half hour later, got us loaded up and on our way. We booked Jose for our return trip and he was very good at working out the return arrangements with me. He also patiently waited for us as one of our couples was took longer to get through customs.
In Galveston, we stayed at the Quality Inn & Suites located at 5924 Seawall Blvd. - there are two located on the island. Wal-Mart was within walking distance of the hotel. You could buy anything there except hard liquor; beer and wine were available. The hotel itself was very nice and we had rooms with a partial view of the ocean. The balconies are all angled so you can see part of the beach. We were directly opposite to the port, but on the other side of the island so we were approximately 10 minutes from the port and the Strand District. There was a very good Mexican restaurant right outside the hotel doors - Tortuga's and they managed our large group very well. Rain Forest Cafe is located a few blocks down from the hotel. This is the extent of the restaurants and bars within walking distance, with the exception of a few hotel bars. On Sunday morning, we called ahead for taxis for the 12 of us and we were on our way by 10:15 a.m.
Embarkation - We arrived at the port and made our way through the embarkation process which took approximately 45 minutes. Once we got our Sign and Sail cards, we had a seat and waited for them to allow us to board. Since we were so early, they gave us a small talk about the embarkation process, boarded the wedding parties and Platinum members and then we were off to board the ship. We were able to take on small cases of water and soda, no questions asked. All in all, I believe we got on board by 12:00-12:30. We had lunch at the Lido buffet and finally got into our rooms about 1:00-1:30. From there, we went back to the Lido bar, enjoyed a few pre-sail cocktails before we were to meet the rest of our Cruise Critic buddies at 3:00 p.m. at the aft pool bar. After the CC meet, we went back to our cabins to get ready for the muster drill. We sailed at approximately 4:00 p.m. and there were several dolphins swimming in the bay to send us off! The muster drill was at 4:30 and from there, it was back to the rooms to start unpacking and getting ready for our first night at sea. Our room steward was Ruby but we did not meet him until it was almost time for dinner. I was a little disappointed by this, but I assume he was quite busy due to the delay in cleaning rooms and getting ready for us. However, he took good care of us all week and we tipped him extra at the end of the trip.
The Ship - The Conquest is showing her age, but overall, the staff was always cleaning and painting and keeping things looking well. My only cleanliness complaint was that the glass shelves in our bathroom were dirty. One other couple had a problem with the shower drain, but maintenance fixed the problem right away.
The Cabins - We had five balcony cabins in a row on the Lido deck (9262-9270) and the sixth was a guarantee on deck six. The elevators and the laundry room were across from our cabins with minimal noise. We had hoped they would have placed our guarantee couple nearer to our group of cabins, but no such luck. If you have a group and can get your cabins in a row, I highly recommend doing so. It made it much easier to connect with our group throughout the week. Also, someone had mentioned on a past review that they could hear water running through the pipes in the walls, which I did hear. Solution? Keep your balcony door open and listen to the sound of the ship cutting through the water. That is the best sound in the world!
The Staff - Mark Price was the Cruise Director and he was informative but boring. Most of the staff that I encountered were a little grumpy and the entertainment staff came across as bored with us but trying not to appear that way. The housekeeping staff and dining room staff were always friendly and we met some other staff from the States that were always willing to chat a moment or two with us. In all fairness to the staff - considering the length of their workdays and their contracts, I don't know if I could be happy every day for six months while dealing with all of us day in and day out either!
Dining - Dinner was 8:00 p.m. in the Monet Dining Room (aft), upper level, tables 506 & 522. These were tables of eight and four across from each other, and we switched seats throughout the week so everyone could dine with each other. Our waiters were Henri and Rainer and they remembered our names, even as we switched around every night. They were great fun and we all tipped "Sir Henri" extra throughout the week. The food in the dining room was the best of all the dining venues and yes, the Chocolate Melting Cake was the highlight for those who enjoy a good dark chocolate dessert!
The breakfast buffet was the usual fare; omelet station, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, dry cereal, toast, bagels, oatmeal, etc. For lunch and dinner; salad, pasta, various veggies and meat selections that went with the Nation of the Day theme. Some items were great and some not so great but when they are feeding 3,000 people, you have to expect this.
For the second formal night, we chose to dine in the supper club, The Point. Unfortunately, as was my past experience on the Valor, the supper club is not all that it's touted to be. We had three tables of four and although we were all together, we were not served at the same time. Our middle table was always the last to be served and usually just starting a course as the other two were starting their next one. There was also a difference of opinion with the wait staff about the difference between rare and medium steaks. I would never expect an argument from a server about something like this - in fact, what I expect from a good steakhouse is, "Yes sir or ma'am, let me ask the chef to correct that for you." Some of the group enjoyed the restaurant but as I pointed out earlier, my experience with the Carnival supper clubs is not what I would expect from a good steakhouse and my husband and I have decided that we will not pay to dine in the supper club again.
One last comment about dining - make sure you know the hours of each restaurant. Sur Mer, the fish and chips station, usually stayed open for only about 2 hours and this was never posted anywhere. They actually kicked me and two other men out of line because they were closing! It was a little annoying but my own fault as I waited until the last day to try this station. I never got to PC Wok's but heard it was very good. And of course, you can't go wrong with the deli and the hamburgers and hot dogs - good cole slaw and potato salad too! Considering we are from Chicago, the pizza wasn't that great, but we still enjoyed it after late nights out! Lastly, room service was really bad on this cruise, but since we were on the Lido deck, we just went to the buffet and brought breakfast or lunch back to our balcony.
Sea Days - We spent most of the sea days hanging out at the pool with little problem getting lounge chairs. Nights were spent in the lounges and the favorite was Jason in the Blues Piano Bar. He has not received good reviews, but he did very well with our group. We arrived at the bar during one of his breaks and when he came in, we started singing for him. He joined right in and it was a party from there! He even let some of the guys in our group get on the microphone and sing. The trick to Jason and the piano bar is to make sure there is a partying crowd from the get-go and a couple dollars, of course!
CC Meet & Greet & Monkey Mingle - Our group decided that monkeys would be how we would identify each other during embarkation, the aft pre-sail Meet & Greet and our Monkey Mingle. We carried our monkeys all over the ship for the first two days and we were a hit! Carnival does not offer a party for Cruise Critic members so for the Monkey Mingle, we planned our own. For $11.44 per person, we had one hour of open bar in Henri's Disco, along with tray cocktails and dry snacks. Everyone brought some type of monkey and Mathews, one of the ship's photographers came and took photos for us. To book a party like this, contact Carnival's Wedding Department.
Past Guest Party - We dressed (smart casual) for a one hour party where the band played for most of the party, there was a short speech and film, someone won a dinner at The Point and you got a bargain on raffle tickets (20 for $10) to win a cruise the last day of the cruise. Boring, but good snackies! And no, we didn't win the cruise!
Montego Bay, Jamaica - Yah Mon! We went to Sunset Beach, which was recommended by other Cruise Critic members. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) the resort is under construction. Overall, we had a fun day here and if you want a cheap excursion, I would recommend this as one you can plan on your own. We took a JUTA taxi (red licenses plates) to the resort where they checked us in and gave us towels. There are no changing rooms, just oversized bathroom stalls. The cost is $40 per person and is all inclusive. Due to the construction, it was a quiet day at the resort's pools and there was no wait service so we took turns running to the bar. The best part of the resort was the lazy river and the water slides. The resort did throw a slide race for us with the winner getting a bottle of rum. The bar service was very good - make sure to try the Coconut Rum and Cokes or the chocolate banana drink - which we dubbed the Banana Monkey drink in honor of the CC Monkeys. They also served an awesome fruit punch that was even better when I added Coconut Rum to it! The buffet lunch had some good items but wasn't that great. Afterwards, we did some shopping at the port shops but the one thing I did not like was how they followed us around to try to get us into their stores. The whole area is like a prison camp and when you go through security to get back on board - well let's just say the men got thoroughly searched. One of the women in our group had a pacemaker and when she told them she couldn't go through the metal detector, one of the male security guards started to pat her down! She jumped away and asked for a woman and had to wait a few minutes for her. Needless to say, this was our least favorite port.
Grand Cayman - Bon Jour! Ok, I'm just going to say it now: I hate tendering! But I loved Grand Cayman. It was beautiful, clean and just a lot of fun to be in. We booked a parasailing excursion through Carnival mainly because of having to tender. However, it was worth it even more because our excursion was cancelled due to rough seas and we were reimbursed with no hassle. So off we went to Margaritaville were we had lunch and some more Banana Monkey drinks. From there, we went to Sea Grape Beach where we rented jet skis that were in excellent condition. Afterwards, we went back to the port area to shop and to the tender line where it took almost an hour to get on the tenders!!! Word to the wise - make sure you are in line on time and in the right line!! We started out in the line for Carnival Victory by accident!! Also, island dollars equate to the Euro and at the time, it was 1.55 Euros to the American dollar. Not cheap by any means and at Margaritaville, it cost us $120 w/tip for an order of hot wings, fajitas, a couple Monkey drinks and Rum and Cokes. Even though it was expensive, the drinks and the food were very good.
Cozumel - Hola! We docked at the Punta Langosta pier which has its own shopping mall. First, we headed off to Chankanaab Park to swim with the dolphins. I booked this on-line with the park and since there were ten in our group, they asked us if we wanted to upgrade to the Royal Swim, which we did. The original swim I booked included only one dolphin and did not have the foot push. With the Royal Swim, we got two dolphins, our own platform (because we had 10 in our group) and play time with the dolphins. Book this excursion and definitely on your own!!! This is simply an amazing experience and I will never forget it! Splurge and buy the photos - they are much better than the ones we took with our own camera. They will bargain a little with you on the cost of the photos too. The park is really nice and they have changing rooms, showers, two stores, a nice pool with swim up bar and offer other types of water activities. Two others in our group stayed behind and did Snuba. They said it was incredible and saw many types of fish and other marine life including an octopus.
After the swim, we taxied back to the pier (cost was about $35 for our group) and dropped off our wet clothes and headed back out to shop and bar hop. Some of the group went to Carlos n Charlies and didn't care for it. Others went to Senor Frogs and Margaritaville and had a great time. DH got sick, so I spent the day shopping at the mall where if I felt quite safe on my own. And, if you haggle with the shops, you will get lower prices than what they want - especially for the silver. Others shopped outside the mall and said they got great bargains on pearls.
Spa Carnival - Those in our group who made it to the spa enjoyed it very much. Among the treatments were a full body massage, a scalp massage, facial, and the ionithermie cellulite treatment in which one woman lost 6 inches from the treatment. Of course, to keep up the loss, you have to purchase products that will help you maintain this.
Disembarkation - We waited until they called our group and from the time we got off, found our luggage and got through customs, it took about an hour. However, if you have someone who is in a different group than you, make sure you all get off at the same time. Our last couple was on Deck 6 and we had to wait an hour and a half for them to get through the process. We asked if we could get them sped up because we had the limo service waiting, but security was very adamant about not doing so.
A few random comments - I'm not sure if it was the time we sailed or due to TS Noel the week before, but the weather was a little cool and very windy. The ship rocked a bit, but we mostly felt it in the dining room. With the wind, it was a little difficult to sit on our balcony but considering how high and forward on the ship we were we didn't really feel it much in the cabin. It was still warm enough to hang out at the pools and swim in the ports.
Due to the time of the year, there were very few children on the ship. Those that we did see were well behaved.
A few went to some of the late night comedy shows, but most of us never made it to the shows. I peeked in on the Carnival Legends show the last night and what I saw was pretty funny - not the guests singing but the back-up dancers! They were hilarious and the crowd was going wild for them. The singers were pretty good too!
Walk the track instead of the treadmills. We walked the track on top of the ship and had a better view than in the gym - and we didn't have to wait for the track!
Participate in the Mardi Gras party! We had a blast and although the weather did not cooperate for an outside pool party that night, we ended up in the disco and it was a major dance party!
Participate in a game or two. Our guys played in a bean bag contest (we women cheered them on) and although they didn't win the customary ship-on-a-stick trophies, they did get medals for second place.
Go down the slide! I think the adults were having more fun than the kids!
If you are port side in Cozumel and have a balcony, participate in "Who Will Miss the Ship" game. It's great fun for all!
Fly in a day early!!! So many people fly in the same day and I can't help wonder why!?! Start your vacation early, shop for items for the cruise instead of carrying them on the plane with you, sightsee, etc.!
Get to know your CC Roll Call buddies! It was so nice to meet everyone we talked to throughout the year. I was always running into someone, either on the ship or in port, trading stories, comparing notes, etc. and I made some great new cruise friends!
Lastly, if you are not from Texas, Galveston is not a very convenient port to cruise from as there is a lot of travel planning involved. However, if you want to cruise Conquest, which I do recommend, use Cruise Critic to plan your travel, your pre-cruise hotels, rentals, general tips, etc. Without Cruise Critic, it would have been much harder to arrange this trip for my group of 12.
Overall, our group had a fantastic trip and the newbies can't wait to go back! Carnival is a great cruise line for those who can't afford the more expensive lines and for those who prefer the party atmosphere. While Conquest was not as new as Valor when we sailed two years ago, we still enjoyed her just as much. And although Carnival itself it is not perfection, we definitely can live with the small imperfections. As everyone says, cruising is what you make of it and we will continue to cruise with Carnival as they suit our vacation style perfectly.